“Salam alaikum, and welcome to Morocco. In postlude of our Black Book series, we’re bringing you the best and brightest from our blue sky escapes. This past June, we travelled to Maghreb (as it is known in Arabic) to get an insider’s look at the North African country’s stunning landscapes and ancient culture. Here is our round-up of some of the best hotels and experiences we’ve deemed worthy of you, our curious and charming travellers.”
– By Chuin Y
After a decade of renovations, the wait is over. Situated near the Andalous Quarter in Fez, Karawan Riad celebrates the art of luxury Moroccan hospitality by blending artefacts, curios and traditional furnishings, all inspired by a time where caravanserai were spread across the lands and sultans ruled the people. In other words, here is a picture of otherworldly Ottoman elegance.
Occupying a 17th century Maqfia harem-palace in the heart of the city’s famous medina, the property boasts seven expansive suites, a rooftop garden, hammam, restaurant and — arguably the focal point — a contemporary stone courtyard criss-crossed by tongue and groove for a geometric effect where one can look up at the sky from for hours. Guests can also indulge in Moroccan patisserie and Mariage Frères teas in the prettiest tea room we’ve ever seen.
In the rooms, the theme of antique textiles, exquisite artworks and contemporary décor continues. They also boast names that serve up a mouthful, like Dzhari, Harmattan and Chergui. But this is of no matter when the settings take your breath away. From one that has a black marble boudoir and mezzanine living space to another with a safari-vibe rooftop hideaway, you simply can’t go wrong.
Question: can you say you’ve travelled to Morocco if you don’t venture to the desert?
Peeking up towards the barren Agafay desert sky sits Scarabeo Camp’s white Bedouin-style tents, a luxurious outpost that moves a dozen kilometres away to a different spot every summer. But “tents” is arguably the wrong word to describe the accommodation. Rooms, they might as well be called.
Wooden double beds sit in the centre, covered in thick Moroccan wool blankets, while rush mats spread from entrance to end. No detail is spared in this impressive bivouac, thanks to stacked vintage suitcases, iron lanterns, antique globes and silver tea tables. The spaces are made complete by handheld showers, flushing loos and old school silver vanity urns.
Throwing on your kaftans and headscarfs to head out to the wilderness is another experience altogether. Trekking through the sands, quad biking and camel rides are par for the course, of course, but the real show descends upon you by night. From the perch of your bleached couch, Casablanca beer in hand, the skies transform from pink cumulonimbus clouds to a streak of stars against midnight blue skies. At the exact moment when a little more light is needed, lanterns across the camp light up. Against this backdrop, sumptuous dinner affairs follow as you tuck in to traditional fare and wine.
Safe to say, Tuareg nomads never experienced camping like this. And in the face of this level of grandeur, one can’t help but feel humbled that such a haven exists.
Another surreal property from one of our esteemed hotel partners, Amanjena is ethereal beauty and bliss. Set in the beautiful Palmeraie area of Marrakech in the backdrop of a 4,000m high hill, Amanjena translates to “peaceful paradise”; much like the location surrounding the compound. Built in 2000, it is the first Aman Resort on the African continent.
Inspired by the rose-hued buildings of old Marrakech and its 12th century Menara gardens, the hotel looks like a Moorish palace — a real architectural gem — where the rooms are riad-inspired and the service is soothingly gracious. With Berber rugs strewn across zellij-tiled floors, up-lit domes, candle lanterns and pink pillared baths, the 32 Pavilion and six Maison abodes — some even have private pools — provide a sense of residence in an over the top albeit gracefully decadent way.
One of the star features is the reflecting pool around which the estate is built, complemented by peripheral jade-coloured fountains, lush date palms, olive trees and bursts of exotic flora. There’s also a holistic spa with two hammams, flood-lit tennis courts, a gym, library, boutique and cigar bar.
If you allow yourself to be torn away from the palace for a day or two, extra-curricular activities include direct access to a golf club, cycling excursions that bring you up-close to views of the Atlas Mountains, and complimentary car trips to the nearby medina. Last but not least, there are two in-house restaurants and the option of a private dining candlelight experience in a Caidal Tent. If it’s secluded serenity you’re after, there is no better place.
Breaking Bread With a Berber Family
One of the most memorable experiences that we’ve ever had anywhere in the world to date, venture out and trek along any one of the myriad of hiking paths and trails that wind up through the Atlas Mountains to visit a Berber family.
Guarding traditions that have remained intact for over hundreds of years, soak up the ambience and warmth in these traditional homes as you learn about the customs and culture. With food being such a pillar of Moroccan life, try your hand at cooking tagine and brewing mint tea. Next, sample homemade bread while a translator speaks to and for you with a “dada” (or expert cook) to bake Moroccan cookies bursting with almond paste. By the end, you get your dinner — and a wholehearted adventure to return home with.
Arts and Crafts in Fez
When in Fez, pick up new craft skills from a master brass-smith and bookbinder who hails from a family of artisans. Learn how to piece together your very own Moroccan journal, including the how to’s of chiselling and leather stamping. “Sharing this timeless art has become my passion,” he says. And who knows? It might even become yours.
Before or after dipping into the workshop, roam the medina’s medieval pathways and dive under the shutters to get the inside scoop of Morocco’s most beautiful city. With the music of the oud pumping blissfully around you at all times, we promise that your appreciation of the country’s artistic and dynamic side will grow ten-fold.